Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Pro-TILMA forces gathering for seminar in Saskatoon; trade deal love-in to include NSBA, SREDA, CWF, SYPE and Sask. Chamber; SFL turned away

Pro-TILMA forces will meet later this month in Saskatoon for a day-long conference and seminar on the trade agreement.

According to May 28, 2007, memorandum posted on its website, the Saskatchewan Agrivision Corporation is co-hosting a conference on the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement signed between Alberta and British Columbia that came into effect in April, 2007. The conference will be an opportunity to learn more about TILMA and will feature Roger Gibbins, President and CEO of the Canada West Foundation. The conference is scheduled for June 26, 2007 at the Saskatoon Inn from 1:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.

Seminar partners and sponsors include North Saskatoon Business Association, Greater Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce, Saskatchewan Young Professionals & Entrepreneurs, Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce, Saskatoon Regional Economic Development Authority, and Canada West Foundation.

Aside from Gibbins other conference speakers include Graham Parsons of the Organization for Western Economic Cooperation and Denis Prud’homme, President of the Saskatchewan Trucking Association.

Saskatchewan Federation of Labour president Larry Hubich, in a May 31, 2007, letter to Agrivision president C.M. (Red) Williams, offered to present an alternative view of TILMA at the conference but was turned down.

Gibbins and Parsons pro-TILMA stance is well known. Earlier this year both contributed an article for the Winter 2007 edition of the Canada West Foundation publication Dialogues that carried the title: What is TILMA? Examining the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement Between BC and Alberta.

In his article Don't Water the Wine: Taking the TILMA East, Gibbins lamented Canada’s slow progress “to reduce interprovincial barriers to trade, investment and labour mobility.”

According to Gibbins, Provincial governments “have been chipping away at these barriers since the mid-1990s. However, the pace has been lethargic and the movement of little consequence.” The Government of Canada hasn’t done any better and “have been preoccupied with their entanglement in the social union, in program delivery by provincial governments, rather than with managing the economic union.”

“In short”, said Gibbins, “the reduction of interprovincial barriers to trade, investment and labour mobility was an idea without a champion.”

Enter BC and Alberta who “stepped in with their Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement, accomplishing through bilateral negotiations what could not be done through multilateral forums.”

Gibbins, however, made no attempt to list the barriers between provinces or provide any empirical evidence to support his claim. Perhaps it’s because genuine barriers simply don’t exist on the grand scale he would like Canadians to believe.

Kathleen Macmillan and Patrick Grady in their report for Industry Canada and Human Resources and Social Development Canada, Inter-Provincial Barriers to Internal Trade in Goods, Services and Flows of Capital: Policy, Knowledge Gaps and Research Issue (March 31, 2007), wrote: “There is a widespread belief, especially among members of the business community, that internal barriers to trade in goods, services and flows of capital are undermining the Canadian economy and jeopardizing the competitiveness of Canadian industry. This view has been given a thorough airing in ongoing hearings into the internal market being held by the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce. Yet there remains a scarcity of hard data and good research to substantiate the impression that barriers do, in fact, impose a significant cost on our economy.”

In a February 2007, TILMA-related report for Saskatchewan Government Relations, UBC economics professor John Helliwell noted that “inter-provincial trade is already essentially unrestricted.”

In earlier posts I have reported that on April 3, 2007, the Edmonton Journal editorial board said there is “little in the way of genuine trade barriers remaining between the two westernmost provinces,” and Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall said in a news release that Saskatchewan has “fewer trade barriers and restrictions than either B.C. or Alberta.” And this is from two pro-TILMA camps no less.

It’s little wonder that the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour was turned away as a speaker at the conference. It would have upset the carefully constructed apple cart.

Despite all this Gibbins says “the governments of BC and Alberta must push forward with all the nitty-gritty implementation details. Every effort must be made to ensure that implementation does not bog down, that the admittedly hard work gets done.”

“[I]t is essential that the TILMA be bullet-proofed from a potential change of government in either province. It would be a tragedy if a future NDP government in British Columbia were to abandon the TILMA, or if a future Alberta government were to tackle a downward swing in the resource sector by throwing up new barriers,” Gibbins said.

Well, if one thing is clear Gibbins is not fond of pesky do-gooders like the NDP.

“[E]very effort should be made to expand TILMA east so as to include Saskatchewan and Manitoba,” said Gibbins, who fails to provide any plausible rationale for or compelling evidence why something as far reaching and intrusive as TILMA is warranted.

Gibbins is adamant that BC and Alberta must ensure “that an expanded TILMA is not a diluted TILMA. If TILMA expands to include Saskatchewan and/or Manitoba, this should take place without side deals and special exemptions. The two provinces should be invited to join, but not rewrite, the agreement that is already in place. Premier Campbell has made it clear that this is his stance.”

So for the Canada West Foundation it’s this agreement and only this agreement. And CanWest newspapers like the Saskatoon StarPhoenix and Regina Leader-Post – that support TILMA as is – expect the people of Saskatchewan to be comfortable with and accept this arrangement without hesitation?

“BC and Alberta probably carry enough economic and political clout within the region to make sure that this happens,” Gibbins said.

No public consultations or legislative debate took place in BC and Alberta prior to TILMA’s signing. It appears that this would suit Gibbins just fine in Saskatchewan as well.

Gibbins states: “[I]f the TILMA is pushed as the template for a truly national agreement, which I am hopeful will be the case, then the demands for special deals—for lowering the bar—will only increase. If the creators of TILMA are tempted to water their wine, we may simply end up back where we were a decade or two ago, with a tepid agreement that will have little positive impact on improving Canada’s international competitiveness.”

This does not bode well for the cities and some organizations in BC, Northwest Territories and Saskatchewan that have considered asking for a permanent exemption from TILMA. For them the concerns about TILMA are legitimate and very real.

As Steven Shrybman of Sack Goldblatt Mitchell LLP points out in his analysis of TILMA for the Ontario Federation of Labour: “The overwhelming majority of government measures that are subject to TILMA have little if anything to do with inter-provincial trade, investment or labour mobility, per se. Rather, these measures, which run the gamut from environmental controls to health care insurance plans, were established to serve broad public or societal purposes and apply equally to persons or companies whatever their respective province of origin. While such measures may impact investment, trade and labour mobility, these effects are indirect or tangential to their essential purpose.”

Gibbins concludes stating “In the short term, the focus of the Alberta and British Columbia governments should be on consolidation, implementation, and natural expansion into Saskatchewan and Manitoba.”

There is nothing natural about having something rammed down your throat against your will but it appears that’s what Gibbins and the CWF want to do with TILMA to the people of BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

As for the Graham Parsons article in the Winter 2007 edition of Dialogues its content is similar to Gibbins.

In Raising the Dead: Breathing Life into Canada’s Internal Trade Agreements, Parsons states: “Trade barriers are a silent killer of productivity and jobs and weaken Canada’s international competitive position.”

Allowing them to stay in Canada “go to the very heart of our federation and our individual freedoms,” Parsons said.

Like Gibbins, Parsons made no attempt to list the barriers between provinces that leave him so distraught. He agrees with Gibbins, though, that “the bilateral Alberta and BC initiative should be expanded to include all four western provinces and the northern territories.”

Canada likes to think of itself as a leader in the world, yet remains archaic in its framework for internal trade,” Gibbins said.

In the aforementioned report for Industry Canada and Human Resources and Social Development Canada, Macmillan and Grady wrote: “Academic studies have, by and large, concluded that internal trade barriers have a minimal effect on overall gross domestic product (GDP). International institutions such as the International Monetary Fund also regard Canada’s internal market as functioning relatively free from impediments. Internal trade practitioners have a similar view.”

In The Myth of Interprovincial Trade Barriers and TILMA’s Alleged Economic Benefits (Feb. 2007), for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Erin Weir and Marc Lee wrote:
“Most serious studies conclude that there are few significant obstacles to trade and investment within Canada. There are no customs inspection stations along provincial borders, nor any kind of tariffs on interprovincial trade. Canadians use the same currency and share common legal, financial and economic institutions. Canadians are free to live and work anywhere in the country. The federal government has constitutional power over interprovincial trade and the courts have consistently struck down attempts by provincial governments to obstruct it.

“What corporate Canada calls “trade barriers” are in fact differences across provinces in government pro­curement systems, labour standards, consumer-protection measures, environmental regulations, and taxes. Harmonizing these policies down to the lowest common denominator would certainly reduce the cost of doing business. However, the alleged trade distortions resulting from these differences, and the supposed public benefits of removing them, have been greatly exaggerated. Genuine trade barriers are quite small and exist in only a few areas.”
That doesn’t seem to stop people like Gibbins and Parsons, however, from shamefully attempting to create an atmosphere of crisis where none exist and not revealing their real motives for wanting TILMA imposed on the entire country as quickly as possible.

Those thinking of attending the pro-TILMA conference could save themselves the $45.00 registration fee and instead download the Winter 2007 publication from the CWF website. No doubt the rhetoric and myths Gibbins and Parsons will peddle on June 26 will be similar to those included in their articles.


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